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Standing Firm

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Illustration of a mom standing firm with daughter in the background.
Jojo Ensslin

Develop consistency in your day-to-day activities, especially during the chaos of joint custody.

I felt like I was being held hostage in my own home.

Only weeks after becoming a single mom, the rules and standards on which I had once leaned no longer worked. Extravagant gifts from her dad filled my 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom: $50 perfume, a leather jacket, a stereo system — luxuries he’d never condoned before the divorce. And it seemed that in every facet of life, Melanie made it clear that she preferred her dad’s parenting style.

The tension between us grew daily. Melanie became arrogant and verbally abusive. Once, after meeting her dad’s new girlfriend, she remarked, “She’s so pretty. She’d make a much better mother than you.”

I begged God for courage to boldly live out my beliefs. That commitment was soon tested while shopping for clothes. “Daddy would never take me here,” Melanie said as we arrived at a thrift store.

“I can’t compete with Daddy by giving you everything you want,” I replied. “All I can give you is what I think you need: a love that knows how to say no, the stability of a good home, values like taking responsibility and believing that being a good person is more important than feeling good.”

Behind slammed doors

I tried to make sense of my daughter’s resistance. Her history and family traditions had all crumbled. Even birthdays and holidays were negotiated. She felt torn between being loyal to me and choosing her dad, who had always been her idol. She lashed out because she felt unsure of her father’s commitment.

When she returned from a 16th birthday trip with her dad and said, “I am going on a date Friday, like it or not,” I arrived at a turning point. Melanie knew the dating parameters — Mom meets the boy first, and whoever is driving. But she argued that Daddy had given his permission.

“Fine,” I said, pulling out her suitcase. “Your dad can have total responsibility raising you. I won’t watch you destroy your life.”

Her door slammed — and I trembled. She stayed.

Greater strength

Today, my now-grown daughter has finally caught on to the fact that I am her biggest fan. Melanie and I recently reminisced about the years she hated me. “Mom,” she said, “you were a rock. You never moved.”

Tears filled my eyes. I recalled the many times I had prayed, “I don’t know what to do anymore. Just help me to stand my ground.” In those moments, when I was desperate for stability and strength, the immovable Rock was there all along.

The author of When He Leaves: Help and hope for hurting wives, Kari West is a popular speaker at divorce-recovery groups and single-parent retreats.

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